Theatre of Blood

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Theater of Blood
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Douglas Hickox
Produced by Gustave Berne
Sam Jaffe
John Kohn
Stanley Mann
Written by Anthony Greville-Bell (screenplay),
Stanley Mann & John Kohn (idea)
Starring Vincent Price
Diana Rigg
Ian Hendry
Music by Michael J. Lewis
Cinematography Wolfgang Suschitzky
Edited by Malcolm Cooke
Distributed by United Artists (UK & USA, theatrical),
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (video)
Release dates
  • 5 April 1973 (1973-04-05)
Running time
104 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $1 million (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Theater of Blood is a 1973 horror film starring Vincent Price as vengeful actor Edward Lionheart and Diana Rigg as his daughter Edwina. The cast includes such distinguished actors as Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Ian Hendry, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Joan Hickson, Robert Morley, Milo O'Shea, Diana Dors and Dennis Price. It was directed by Douglas Hickox.


Edward Kendall Sheridan Lionheart (Vincent Price) had thought he was the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. Abetted by his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), Lionheart sets about murdering, one by one, a group of critics who had both ridiculed his acting throughout his career and declined to award him their "Critic's Circle Award for Best Actor", which Lionheart felt was merited by his final season of performances in various Shakespearean plays; humiliated in the aftermath of the awards ceremony, he attempts suicide and is presumed dead. Unbeknownst to the critics and the police, Lionheart survives the suicide attempt and is adopted into a community of meths-drinking vagrants who do his bidding.

The manner of Lionheart's revenge on each critic is inspired by deaths of characters in the plays of Lionheart's last season of Shakespeare. In most cases the critic is first duped by Lionheart's acting initially to "play the part" before Lionheart's murderous intentions are revealed, followed by a forced recantation and an ironic, humiliating and grotesque dispatch of the critic.

The first victim is butchered by a group of tramps on March 15 (the Ides of March), in a reenactment of the death of Julius Caesar. The next is speared and his corpse dragged behind a horse, the fate of Hector at the hands of Achilles in Troilus and Cressida. The Merchant of Venice is reworked so that Shylock gets a pound of flesh (a critic's heart). Other murders include: a drowning in a cask of wine, based on the murder of the Duke of Clarence in Richard III; the wife of one critic, both of whom were drugged to sleep soundly, awakens next to her husband's decapitated body (albeit after the maid begins screaming), as Imogen awoke to find the headless body of Cloten in Cymbeline; quasi-cannibalism — the effeminate Meredith Merridew is tricked into eating his "babies" (his beloved poodles) just as Queen Tamora was fed the flesh of her two sons, baked in a pie, in the climax of Titus Andronicus; another critic is tricked into believing (by Lionheart in disguise, as the Iago character) that his wife has been unfaithful, driving him to smother her in a jealous rage (i.e. Othello) and spend the rest of his life in prison. The sole female critic (played by Coral Browne, shortly to become Price's third and last wife) is electrocuted with special hair curlers as Lionheart (in disguise as a flamboyant hairdresser; complete with a large blond afro wig in what is the film's most bizarre disguise) recites the passage in which Joan of Arc is burnt at the stake, "Spare for no fagots [bundles of sticks], let there be enough..." (from Henry VI, part 1). Many of the deaths are patterned to the weaknesses of the critics — i.e. the one whose heart was ripped out had showed lusty behaviour, the one drowned in wine was an alcoholic, and the effeminate critic force-fed his poodles was a glutton. Each critic can be seen to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins, with punishment fitting the particular sin.

A "duel" scene features Lionheart and the chief critic, Peregrine Devlin, bouncing around on trampolines while slashing at one another with rapiers, in the manner of the swordfight between Tybalt and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Lionheart uses this appearance to establish that he did indeed survive his suicide attempt, and thereby get his daughter, the police's chief suspect, released from custody and surveillance, to be falsely presumed the innocent daughter of a madman. Lionheart, however, spares Devlin, who has recognized him and whom he needs to inform the police, as he intends to save Devlin, as head of the Critic's Circle, for last.

The audience and sometime-participants in the mayhem are methylated-spirits-drinking vagrants, who saved Lionheart from drowning after his attempt at suicide by leaping into the river. As the cheap but toxic methylated spirits have damaged their senses, Lionheart finds them easy to manipulate to help him in some of the more public murders. After the principal series of killings, one such vagrant is disguised as Lionheart as a diversion to lure the police away while Devlin, the last surviving critic, is kidnapped. Using the lure of hard alcohol, the police get him to divulge Lionheart's lair.

The film ends following Lionheart's attempt to force the remaining critic, Peregrine Devlin, to present him with the "coveted" Critic's Circle Award for Best Actor. Taking the blinding of the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear as inspiration, Lionheart devised a contraption containing two red-hot daggers, which are poised to blind the critic should he refuse to recant, but whom he will release otherwise. Devlin stands his ground despite the menace and refuses to change his original choice for the award. The slow-moving contraption is released; however, police sirens are heard outside and the device becomes stuck temporarily. Lionheart sets fire to the theater to thwart the police, who save Devlin in the nick of time. In the confusion, one of the group of vagrants kills Edwina (i.e. the Cordelia-like devoted daughter), hitting her over the head with the award. Lionheart retreats, carrying Edwina's body to the roof and delivering Lear's final monologue just before the roof caves in and plunges, flaming, to his death within the theatre. To this, Devlin comments: "Yes, it was a remarkable performance, but he was madly overacting as usual. But you must admit he did know how to make an exit."


Critical reception[edit]

This film was reportedly a personal favourite of Price, as he had always wanted the chance to act in Shakespeare, but found himself being typecast due to his work in horror films.[2] Before or after each death in the film, Lionheart recites passages of Shakespeare, giving Price a chance to deliver choice speeches such as Hamlet's famous third soliloquy ("To be, or not to be, that is the question..."); Mark Antony's self-serving eulogy for Caesar from Julius Caesar ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears..."); "Now is the winter of our discontent..." from the beginning of Richard III; and finally, the raving of the mad King Lear at the loss of his faithful daughter.

The film is sometimes considered to be a spoof or homage of The Abominable Dr. Phibes:[3][4] presumed-dead protagonist (who is a professional performer) seeking revenge, nine intended victims (one of whom actively works directly with Scotland Yard and survives), themed murders rooted in literature, young female sidekick, etc.

Today, Theatre of Blood is critically acclaimed, maintaining a 96% "fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus "Deliciously campy and wonderfully funny, Theater of Blood features Vincent Price at his melodramatic best.".

Filming locations[edit]

Theatre of Blood was rather exceptional in that it was filmed entirely on location instead of staging scenes inside a movie studio. Lionheart's fictional hideout, the "Burbage Theatre", was actually the Putney Hippodrome in London, built in 1906, which had been vacant and dilapidated for over a decade before being used in the film. It was later demolished in 1975 to make way for housing units. The hippodrome was also used in director Hickox's previous film, Sitting Target (1972) with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane.

Lionheart's tomb is an actual monument in Kensal Green Cemetery. It belongs to the Sievier family, and shows the sculpted figures of a seated man, one hand placed on the head a woman kneeling in adoration, while the other holds the Bible, its pages opened to a passage in the Book of Luke. This monument was altered for the film by plaster masks of Price and Rigg substituting for the statue's real ones, the Bible became a volume of Shakespeare and there is a suitable engraving at the front with Lionheart's name and dates.

Peregrine Devlin's impressive Thames-side apartment was in reality the penthouse flat at Alembic House (now known as Peninsula Heights) on the Albert Embankment.[5] The property became the London home of novelist and disgraced politician Jeffrey Archer.[6]

Stage adaptation[edit]

The film was adapted for the stage by British company Improbable, with Jim Broadbent playing Edward Lionheart and Rachael Stirling, Diana Rigg's daughter, playing the role her mother essayed, Lionheart's daughter. The play differs from the film in major ways as the critics are from major British newspapers (examples including The Guardian and The Times) and is entirely set within an abandoned theatre. The play remains set in the 1970s rather than updated to contemporary times.[7]

Another change is the removal of most secondary characters including police, as well as reducing the number of deaths. The killings based on Othello and Cymbeline were omitted as they would have to take place outside the theatre and rely heavily on secondary characters, such as the critics' wives. The name of Lionheart's daughter is changed from "Edwina" to "Miranda" to enhance the Shakespearean influence. This adaptation ran in London at the National Theatre between May and September 2005 and received mixed reviews.


Vincent Price was introduced to his future wife Coral Browne by Diana Rigg during the making of the film. Browne recalled in a television documentary Caviar To The General in 1990, that she had not wanted to make "one of those scary Vincent Price movies" but she was persuaded to take the part of Chloe Moon by her friends Robert Morley and Michael Hordern, acknowledging that the film thus had a very strong cast. Rigg introduced the couple, ignorant of the fact that Price was married.[8]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  2. ^ Gary J. Svehla & Susan Svehla, Vincent Price Midnight Marquee Actors Series, ISBN 1-887664-21-1, page 267
  3. ^ "Theater Of Blood". Eccentric Cinema. Retrieved 2014-02-11. 
  4. ^ "Theatre of Blood". Retrieved 2014-02-11. 
  5. ^ James, Simon (2007). London Film Location Guide. Chrysalis Books. p. 146. 
  6. ^ Denyer, Lucy (2006-12-17). "Good day at the office". The Sunday Times (Times Newspapers). Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  7. ^ "Show Detail". Improbable. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  8. ^ Coral Browne: 'This Effing Lady', by Rose Collis, Oberon Books, ISBN 978-1-84002-764-8

External links[edit]